Earlier this week we brought you the first part of our visual guide to Nintendo's Handheld Revamps, starting with Game Boy and going all the way up to Game Boy Advance SP. In terms of handheld console models, and despite the number of years covered, that only covered about half of the story; now we'll pick up with the first iteration of the biggest-selling handheld console of all time.
North American release: 21st November 2004.
The Nintendo 'Dual Screen', or 'Developer's System' as Nintendo also described it, took the clamshell design of the pre-Game Boy Game and Watch systems and the more recent Game Boy Advance SP and added a touch screen alongside a standard top screen. The concept was to allow for developers to produce gaming experiences not previously possible, and this was a time before smartphones were common, making the stylus-controlled touch screen a revelation to the mass-market.
There were other features to add to the experience that hadn't been utilised significantly in a Nintendo handheld, such as a microphone that could be used for basic voice recognition, or mainly for shouting and blowing. Wireless internet connectivity was also new, bringing online multiplayer into the fold, while a slot for Game Boy Advance game carts brought backwards compatibility.
An innovation, but this system didn't score well for its visual appeal, though it does have the somewhat affectionate nickname of the DS 'Phat'; it ushered in a new era of handhelds without the classic 'Game Boy' branding.
Game Boy Micro
North American release: 19th September 2005.
The Game Boy Micro was the final handheld with the iconic brand, and it was also the smallest by quite a distance. Although the name would suggest a late revival for the Game Boy catalogue, the diminutive dimensions meant that it was a device only capable of playing Game Boy Advance carts. The screen, while tiny, boasted a clarity and quality beyond the original Game Boy Advance handheld.
An issue with Game Boy Micro was that it was unable to play or use accessories and adapters that functioned on the previous GBA models. All Game Boy accessories such as its camera were unusable, as was the GBA to GameCube connection cable, though an equivalent connector for the GBA multiplayer connection cable was available. Outside of Japan the system struggled to sell to expected levels, probably due to the fact that Nintendo gamers would instead opt for a larger GBA SP or the recent DS.
One unique feature was the ability to switch face plates to customise the appearance of the system. A notable example was the 20th Anniversary edition designed to look like a Famicom controller, pictured above.
Nintendo DS Lite
North American release: 11th June 2006.
The design of the original DS wasn't universally loved, so it was little surprise that the DS Lite was released with a new, more attractive design. It was slimmer and lighter, while the top screen had improved visibility and brightness settings: its design truly set the standard for the DS 'family' of consoles, with successive systems following its lead.
The different brightness settings also meant that, with a low option, the battery life was a significant improvement over the original model. It's also the last Nintendo handheld to offer full backwards compatibility with the Game Boy Advance carts. It provides evidence that a combination of big games and aesthetic quality matter, as despite its modest enhancements over the 'Phat' model it has shipped over 90 million units.
North American release: 5th April 2009.
The substantial success of DS Lite led to a lengthy wait of nearly three years for the next DS model, as Nintendo was happy to allow the second model to sell in huge numbers. When it did arrive, the DSi brought more enhancements to this family of consoles, introducing key new features to the experience.
Under the hood, DSi had modest improvements on the previous model, including a more powerful processor to help with some new features. Two cameras were added, one facing inwards and the other providing a conventional outward view, with software and games designed to make basic use of the images. Other free apps included a web browser and a sound player, both relatively primitive but fun for a dabble, while the headline inclusion was the DSi Shop. Although no Virtual Console was included, this platform gave birth to DSiWare, marking Nintendo's first foray into downloadable software on a handheld. Although titles had to be on the system memory to play, a memory slot for an SD card gave easily-accessible expanded memory.
A notable absence was the GBA cart slot, meaning that there was no backwards compatibility on the system, unless you count original DS software (which you shouldn't). Some titles were released that were DSi exclusive, though were few in number.
Nintendo DSi XL
North American release: 28th March 2010.
After a fairly lengthy wait for the DSi remodel, it was less than a year before Nintendo released the super-sized XL model. Released with the apparent intention that the larger screens — with improved viewing angle — would allow others to 'experience' games on the handheld, it was a model that was attractive to those looking for a more comfortable handheld experience, if not necessarily worried about portability.
The DSi XL did boast improved battery life, as well as a stylus 'pen' for use with the larger screens. As part of the effort to make the system an attractive purchase, pack in DSiWare content was included: Brain Age Express: Math, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters and Photo Clock. It was also, quite possibly, the first handheld to have a 'burgundy' model, as part of the goal of making it a desirable gadget for the home.
North American release: 27th March 2011.
By the time 3DS arrived on the scene, the technology in the DS/DSi family of consoles was noticeably long in the tooth. The main selling point of 3DS is in the name: an auto-stereoscopic screen that produces 3D visuals without the need for special glasses. As well as the 3D effect, the processors in the system are a significant step-up from the DS consoles, seemingly capable of producing visuals somewhere between Wii and GameCube standards.
The design has also introduced other innovations new to Nintendo handhelds, including the Circle Pad for analogue control, with a second available through the infamous Circle Pad Pro extension. An additional external camera allows for 3D photos and videos to be taken, while built in software includes AR (Augmented Reality) games. Motion controls are prominent, also, with accelerometer and gyroscope technology featured in varied ways for game controls.
Another improvement is in the wireless connectivity, with 3DS capable of accessing higher-security connections than DS and DSi. An inbuilt pedometer encourages users to take it on the road, with StreetPass allowing users to swap data on the move and SpotPass receiving data over internet connections. The online eShop offers new software and DSiWare, as well as Virtual Console titles from Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear and NES, while Ambassadors have ten Game Boy Advance titles: full retail downloads are due to start on 19th August.
With DS backwards compatibility it's a system with plenty to offer, though a poor start prompted a significant price drop from Nintendo. Its fortunes have improved, but only time will tell whether 3DS can enjoy major and sustained success, though it's unlikely to match DS 'family' sales.
Nintendo 3DS XL
North American release: 19th August 2012.
Set to arrive in Europe earlier, on 28th July, 3DS XL is the first iteration of 3DS. As the name suggests, and much like the DSi XL, its main selling point will be bigger screens. A noticeable change in shape and a matte finish also distinguish it from the current model, as well as design changes to the 3D slider and bottom buttons, amongst others.
This model will also have a 4GB SD card included, twice the size of the original, yet European and Japanese models won't include a power adapter. It does boast an improved battery, addressing a common complaint of the existing model.
So there you have it, the completion of this visual guide to Nintendo handhelds. Which of these have you owned? If you have a 'Famicom' Game Boy Micro, this is also a chance to boast in the comments below.